cover image The Pale of Settlement

The Pale of Settlement

Margot Singer, . . Univ. of Georgia, $24.95 (213pp) ISBN 978-0-8203-3000-6

Setting nine linked stories against a turbulent political background, Singer follows New York City journalist Susan Stern over two decades, as she flounders through a string of failed love affairs and maintains close relationships with Israeli relatives. Visiting her paternal grandparents in Haifa, Susan finds Israel relatively normal despite the 1982 Lebanon War. She loses some of her naïveté when her soldier-cousin, Gavi, joins a cult in the aftermath; after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Gavi's behavior becomes even more difficult to navigate. By that point, Susan realizes she still has feelings for an ex-boyfriend who calls in a panic to confess that a casual girlfriend is pregnant with his child. Susan's affair with a married man is told in tandem with a tale about her grandmother's difficult first years in British-occupied Haifa, while a maternal uncle who is a Jerusalem archeologist digs up a more recent, and more uncomfortable, truth. The latter revelation is touched off by 2002 reports of violence in Israel: Susan feels guilt and responsibility for the ongoing political crisis, but also a deep yearning for the country. Many story lines go unresolved, but the end result is a pungent composite portrait of a strong, complicated woman. (Oct.)